On April 24th, 1970, the Long March 1 rocket lifted the Dong Fang Hong 1 satellite into Earth’s orbit, making China the fifth country to put their artificial satellite into space, behind Japan and France (and obviously the Soviet Union/U.S.). China’s space program and rocket development branched from the technology of ICBMs, similarly to the USSR and the U.S., and the first two stages of the Long March 1 were derived from the Dongfeng 3 and 4 ICBM. The rocket’s first stage was propelled using four YF-2A engines, which burned dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitric acid for propellant, and the second stage used two of these engines. The third stage was a booster that China had added on top. The rocket only had two launches before it retired a year later in 1971.
The next variation of the Long March rockets was the Long March 2, which stretched over twice the size of its precursor, equipped with four YF-20 engines on its first stage and a single YF-20 engine on its second stage. The improved YF-20 engines used UDMH but swapped the nitric acid for nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). The Long March 2A reached 105 feet tall, launching 4 times with its first flight failing. The Long March 2C replaced the 2A rocket and was first launched in 1982, only having one failure out of 51 attempts. The launch vehicle stood almost 35 feet taller with increased propellant storage. The most recent launch of the rocket was back in March of this year, as it remains active after over 40 years. The Long March 2E variation was equipped with 4 liquid propelled boosters that were strapped onto the rocket. Although it had multiple failures, it helped the Chinese Space Program develop the Long March 2F rocket, ultimately being the vehicle that would help put the Chinese into space, as well as marking the end of the Long March 2 rockets.
The Long March 3 rocket had multiple variants which were used to launch artificial satellites into space, in addition to a third stage that would be powered by liquid hydrogen and LOX instead of dimethylhydrazine. The Long March 3A used YF-73 engines but didn’t have any strap-on boosters while the Long March 3B used YF-21 engines, which were essentially the same as the YF-20 engines. Additionally, the 3B included the addition of four strap-on boosters which helped the rocket propel further. The Long March 3C took off two of the four strap-on boosters, allowing it to lift medium-weighted payloads.
Long March 4A was developed without the use of a hydrogen and LOX propellant like the 3A and instead, the program decided to revert to dimethylhydrazine with nitrogen tetroxide. China’s largest-ever rocket, the Long March 5, first flew in 2016, featuring RP-1 kerosene and LOX powered, along with 4 strap-on boosters. The Long March B was introduced shortly after the first few flights of Long March 5, capable of lifting over 25 tons of payload into orbit and standing around 170 feet tall. Both of the Long March 5 variations utilize the YF-100 engine, which ran an oxidizer-rich staged combustion cycle that used one turbine. Many other Long March vehicles exist and are currently active today, such as the Long March 6/6A and 7/7A rockets. Long March 8 was developed recently and launched in 2020 and Long March 11 is also currently active, launching back in 2015.